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Parrott makes Olympic debut, Ireland bows out

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VANCOUVER -- The transition was seamless and unspoken, yet symbolic.

One old veteran from Manitoba left the Olympic stage Monday night, after one last sprint for an elusive medal in his fourth Winter Games.

Just as the new kid from Minnedosa arrived, his own Olympic career yawning before him.

Where Mike Ireland gracefully departed, Kyle Parrott made his Winter Games debut.

The 24-year-old Parrott finished 21st in the 500-metre long track -- his first of three events in Vancouver.

"I was a little bit disappointed with my results, but it was good to get that debut and feel what the crowd is like," noted Parrott, who has the 1,000 metres (his strongest race) and 1,500 left on his Olympic slate.

Still, Parrott was clearly learning under fire. On ice.

"Oh, it's definitely emotional when you're watching other people do it," he acknowledged. "(But) I didn't really start to feel anything until I was getting my arm band put on and I'm thinking, 'Oh, man, it's really coming. In a couple minutes I'm going to race in the Olympics.' It was pretty intense.

"But you have to go through everything, right," Parrott added. "When you're watching on TV you only see the few seconds before the race. Then the gun goes and all the nerves disappear. It's the experience of all the things that lead up to it, those two hours and delays (caused by ice problems). The second run was a lot smoother and I was a lot more relaxed.

"Sometimes if you're too nervous you won't push hard enough because you want to stay relaxed or you push too hard because you want to try as hard as you can. It's good to get a race in where you can kind of find a middle ground."

So went Parrott's first ever Olympic experience, and the young man continued through the oval's mixed zone to prepare for the 1,000-metres on Wednesday.

Only a few minutes later, along came the 36-year-old Ireland, who had just placed 16th in his last Games.

"This is probably my last race," an emotional Ireland said, his eyes tearing up. "I wanted to finish at home in front of the (Vancouver) crowd. I had a lot of friends and family and guys I've raced with that came out and cheered me on. It was great. The crowd was loud and good and knowing so many people..."

Turns out, however, Ireland, who has a history with health ailments, had his upper back seize up prior to Monday's race.

"I had a spasm," he said. "I went and warmed up but had trouble breathing. They (physiotherapists) did some pretty good work, but you have to be 100 per cent in the Olympics. I skated pretty good considering, but... it just didn't happen. You've got to be feeling pretty good."

Asked for his reaction to the back spasms, Ireland replied: "Frustration. Why is it happening today? But, obviously, it was dig deep, gut it out, do the best that you can and see what can happen."

But it was with mixed emotions that Ireland left the Olympic Oval for the final time, to the point where the question caused him to pause and compose himself.

"It's been a long time coming," he said, finally.

By contrast, Parrott was asked if his was the first Olympic race of many more to come.

"Hopefully," the Games rookie replied. "Get some experience here and go back and work on the mistakes I've made and go to Sochi and do it again."

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 16, 2010 C3

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